Cats are fascinating creatures. They’re descended from some of the most powerful, fearsome animals out there — the majestic lion, the stealthy panther and the mighty tiger. And while you see some evidence of Fluffy’s wild ancestry when she stalks and pounces on her toys, she also engages in behaviors that are harder to explain and justify, like licking your hair as soon as you get out of the shower. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, Why does my cat lick my hair?, you’re definitely not alone! We asked vets and cat behavior experts why cats seem to love being your personal hairstylists (spoiler alert: the reason is cuter than you might think), when the behavior becomes a concern and what you can do to stop it — if you want to, of course!
3 reasons why cats lick your hair
No, she most likely isn’t pursuing her passions of opening her own salon one day. Keep reading for the (precious) reasons your cat lick your hair.
1. Because she loves you
Thought your cat couldn’t be any cuter? Think again. One of the reasons she licks your hair is simply because she loves you and sees you as part of her group. “When cats groom each other, it’s referred to as ‘allogrooming,’ and it’s a very affectionate behavior,” says Joey Lusvardi, IAABC certified cat behavior consultant and owner of Class Act Cats. “While you are not a cat, they still see you as a member of their social circle, so they’re doing the same thing they would do with another cat.”
Cats groom other cats that they trust and value, so when they lick you, they’re expressing those same feelings for you. “They’re giving you their version of a hug,” adds veternarian Dr. Luana Factor, contributor to Hermit Crab Answers. “It’s a mark of affection, signifying that you, dear human, have made it to their shortlist of favorite human beings.” So if you ever get annoyed by your cat licking your hair, just remember — she’s trying to show you how much she loves you.
2. Because she wants attention
Another reason your cat may lick your hair is pretty simple: She wants your attention. “Your cat may have learned that licking your hair gets them attention, so they may be trying to get you to notice them,” says Lusvardi. This is especially true if you tend to engage with your cat by petting her or playing with her when she licks your hair. She may see it as a transaction of sorts — she licks your hair, she gets your attention.
3. Because of the smell
Does your cat mostly lick your hair when it’s wet? This is pretty common, and it could be for a few different — albeit opposite — scent-related reasons: She’s either drawn to the scent, or she’s trying to cover it up.
When your hair is wet and freshly washed, it smells more strongly of shampoo and any other products you’re using than when it’s dry. If this is kitty’s favorite time to lick your hair, she may simply be drawn to the scent of your hair products, notes Dr. Mikel (Maria) Delgado, cat behavior expert with Rover. They probably smell pretty yummy, and she’s trying to get a taste.
Another reason she may tend to lick your hair when it’s wet is because it doesn’t smell enough like ‘her’ anymore. “Have you ever noticed how, after a grooming session, you smell a little cat-ish?” asks Dr. Factor. “When cats lick you, they’re actually trying to make you a part of their clan by making you smell like them. It’s a throwback to their wild days, where smelling alike meant you were part of the tribe.” So until L’Oréal comes out with cat-scented shampoo, kitty may insist upon being responsible for the final step of your hair-washing routine.
When this behavior is a cause for concern
Because hair licking is a fairly common cat behavior, it isn’t an immediate cause for concern. However, there are some cases in which it could indicate an underlying issue. Keep reading for telltale signs that you should consult your vet about kitty’s hair-licking habits.
1. If it’s obsessive
When the behavior turns from casual to compulsive, your cat may be trying to tell you something. “If your cat is ‘obsessed’ with licking your hair, it could be a sign that they are stressed or bored and engaging in this behavior to self-soothe,” says Dr. Delgado.
You know your cat, and you can likely tell the difference between her passively engaging in an activity for enjoyment and her frantically performing an act as if she feels like she needs to. “If your cat seems driven to lick your hair, that could indicate she’s not getting a behavioral need met, or some sort of more serious behavioral problem may be present,” adds Lusvardi.
If your cat acts like she needs to lick your hair, it may be worth discussing with your vet to see if there is something making her feel stressed or ill.
2. If she starts eating it
When your cat progresses from licking your hair to eating it, that might be a sign of a medical problem, says Lusvardi. One potential issue may be pica, a condition in which cats persistently eat non-food items, and it may indicate a nutritional deficiency. “This behavior is always worth mentioning to your veterinarian, especially if it’s new,” says Dr. Delgado.
Another reason you don’t want your cat to eat your hair is because, well, you need it on your head! But it could also be bad for her health. “She could ingest residual hair products, and swallowing too much air could cause digestive problems or even a gastrointestinal obstruction,” says Dr. Delgado. (Click through to see why she might be pulling her own hair out.)
How to get your cat to stop licking your hair
Maybe you love it when your cat licks your hair. But if you’re tired of cat-drool cowlicks, or if her licking is becoming concerning, you may need to take action. Once you’ve discovered the underlying cause of her licking, here are a few ways you can redirect her behavior so she’ll keep her hairstyling services to herself.
1. Rule out medical or behavioral problems
Firstly, if you think your cat’s hair licking is problematic, talk to your vet. They may recommend solutions like medication, diet changes or consultations with a professional cat behaviorist to determine and solve the underlying issues.
2. Provide enrichment
If your cat is licking your hair because she’s bored, she may benefit from some mental stimulation and enrichment. “She may need more activities like interactive play or food puzzles,” says Dr. Delgado. Next time she starts licking your hair, pick up her favorite toy and play with her for a while. If she’s just trying to get your attention, start rewarding her with attention when she’s not licking your hair — that way, she stops seeing it as a transaction.
3. Change your hair products
Your shampoo might smell too good for Kitty to resist. Try switching out scents to see if it makes a difference. “A mild citrus scent can deter cats, given their usual aversion to it,” recommends Dr. Factor. So if you’ve had an eye on that fresh lemony-scented conditioner, now might be the time to try it.
Want to learn more about your pet’s cute (and sometimes confusing) behaviors? Check out the stories below: